Originally written on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 11/15/12
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I know I’m preaching to the choir here. I know the horse is dead and buried. We’ll talk about something else tomorrow, I promise. But, today, I have one final thought on the MVP discussion, and specifically, about the idea that a player on a non-playoff team has limited value. As Mark Bauman put it: The Angels finished third in the AL West. Without Trout, where would they have finished? Unless you believe that they would have been 15 games worse without Trout, the correct answer would still be third. The Tigers finished first in the AL Central, after a substantial struggle and a period of underachievement. Their subsequent advance to the World Series, of course, has no place in this election. But they did manage to make a push late in the regular season to overtake the White Sox and qualify for the postseason. This is, for a lot of voters, a big issue. Cabrera’s team made the playoffs, and they wouldn’t have without him. Trout’s team didn’t make the playoffs, and they could have not made the playoffs even if he spent the whole year in the minors. So how valuable could Trout really have been? To that question, I’ll ask one of my own – if you really buy into that argument, how can Trout even appear anywhere on your ballot? The Tigers won the AL Central by three games. Take away Miguel Cabrera and they don’t win the division. But, take away Justin Verlander, they don’t win the division either. Take away Prince Fielder, they don’t win the division. Take away Austin Jackson, they don’t win the division. Besides Cabrera, there are at least three Tigers who were clearly worth more than three wins, and you could make a good case for Max Scherzer and Doug Fister as well. How about on the Yankees? They won their division by two games, and finished five games ahead of Tampa Bay, the team with the best record that didn’t qualify for the postseason. Robinson Cano and CC Sabathia were worth five wins to the Yankees, right? And, if you think defensive metrics are total bunk, maybe even Jeter was too. Same deal with Baltimore and Texas, who just snuck into the last wild card spot by the same margin as which Detroit won the AL Central. Do we not think Adam Jones or Matt Wieters were worth at least three wins to the Orioles this year? How about Adrian Beltre, Josh Hamilton, Yu Darvish, or Matt Harrison – were they not worth at least three wins apiece to the Rangers? In every single case, you take them off their team, and the difference is likely making the playoffs versus not making the playoffs. They were all excellent players, and without them, their teams probably wouldn’t have made it to October. Why is Mike Trout more valuable than every single one except for Cabrera? If a major determining factor in a player’s value is his team’s qualification for the playoffs, Trout shouldn’t finish in the top 10. There were a lot of great players who helped carry their teams to the playoffs. Trout isn’t one of them, and if that’s enough to exclude him from being most valuable, why isn’t he excluded from being second most valuable? How do we justify the idea that Trout is less valuable than Cabrera because of the Tigers playoff status, but still less valuable than Verlander, who is the reigning AL MVP and had another great season? If our goal is to really identify the “most valuable” player and not the “best” player, why do we start with a list of the best players, and then only use a team’s playoff position as a divider, rather than starting with a list of guys who made the playoffs and then deciding who was the best from that group? Is it, perhaps, because we know that a great player on a non-playoff team can be more valuable than a good player on a playoff team? Isn’t that what we’re inherently all agreeing to when Trout finishes ahead of Verlander, Fielder, Cano, Beltre, Hamilton, and the rest?
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